A stone statue of goddess Annapurna, which may have been stolen and transported to Canada over a century back, will be returned to India.
The statue, dating back to the 18th century, was handed over by interim president and vice-chancellor of the University of Regina, Thomas Chase, to India’s high commissioner to Ottawa, Ajay Bisaria, in a virtual event that was also attended by officials from Global Affairs Canada and Canada Border Service Agency.
The statue is believed to be originally from Varanasi and was part of the university’s collection in its MacKenzie Art Gallery.
According to a release from the Indian high commission, the university recently discovered that the Annapurna statue may have been acquired “under suspicious circumstances and did not conform to current principles of ethical acquisition”.
Bisaria expressed his gratitude for the proactive action of the university, which is located in the capital of the province of Saskatchewan, and said, “The move to voluntary repatriate such cultural treasures shows the level of maturity and understanding in India-Canada relations.”
The statue was added to the gallery’s collection as part of a 1936 bequest by Norman Mackenzie, after whom it is named.
That it may have been illegally brought to Canada was first raised by artist Divya Mehra as she was going through the collection while preparing for her exhibition, which began in August this year.
According to a statement from the university, Mehra’s research showed that Mackenzie may have brought it back after a trip to India in 1913 after a stranger heard the collector’s “desire to have the statue, and stole it for him from its original location – a shrine at stone steps on the riverbank of the Ganges at Varanasi”.
The Annapurna statue was then identified by Dr Siddhartha V Shah, curator of Indian and South Asian Art at the Peabody Essex Museum.
Once alerted, the university sought to remedy the century-old wrong. Chase said, “As a university, we have a responsibility to right historical wrongs and help overcome the damaging legacy of colonialism wherever possible. Repatriating this statue does not atone for the wrong that was done a century ago, but it is an appropriate and important act today.”
His views were echoed by Alex King, curator-preparator of the University’s president’s art collection, who said, “Today, we conduct due diligence on the provenance of incoming artwork, but will take steps to review objects that have been in our care before such standards were commonplace.”